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Musings on Universalism

From the category of “interesting pastoral experiences” comes the following email I received last week:

Hi,

I am seeking a universalist belief church where people believe that Jesus came to earth to tell people about universal salvation, not eternal damnation? Is this such a church?  I have gone to yours before, but never did understand what the belief system is at this church?

Thank you for your time—God bless,

————

Hmm, how to respond?  It’s one of those questions that sounds almost artificial—like some hypothetical case-study from a theology textbook.  Well, resisting the urge to launch into an in-depth discussion of the merits and shortcomings of universalism or the biblical position on matters of eschatology, I briefly (and politely) informed my interlocutor that while we believe that Jesus did come to earth to make salvation available to all, we are not a universalist church, and directed them to the Mennonite Brethren confession of faith.

At one level, it’s easy to dismiss emails like these as curious anomalies and not much more.  I would guess that the number of people confusing a Mennonite Brethren church with a universalist one would be a rather small one.  But the experience got me thinking.

I would suspect that many of us have, at times, wished that universalism was true.  The doctrine of hell, eternal punishment, annhilation, or however else you conceive of the idea of some kind of post-mortem judgment is probably one of the less popular Christian beliefs out there.  I know that I have certainly found universalism at least superficially appealing at various points along the way.  It’s not pleasant to think of judgment after all, especially when that judgment is permanent.  If God is a God of love and he loves us all equally and seeks the redemption of all (1 Tim. 2:3-4), how can any miss out?

First, a caveat: I’m going to leave aside what the Bible explicitly has to say on the matter.  As is the case in most matters of importance, Bible verses can be produced to support both sides of the issue, and “what the Bible says” will depend in large part on the presuppositions and interpretive strategies that one brings to the question.  This is not to say I think the Bible is unimportant.  Far from it.  It’s simply to say that appealing to “what the Bible says” might not solve anything. “The Bible says” very different things to the very different people who actually care what the Bible says or consider it authoritative in any sense.  And for those who don’t?  Well, appealing to the Bible won’t be of much use.

So what I will do is tell you why I am not a universalist.   There are two main (closely-related) reasons:

  1. Universalism has too low a view of evil
  2. Universalism has too low a view of human beings.

First, if nothing and nobody gets condemned, and salvation is offered to all irrespective of their acknowledging either a need for it or a recognition of its origin, then genuine evil seems not to be taken seriously enough.  There are certain deeds, as Peter Berger has put it, that simply cry out to heaven for justice.  Everyone can, I’m sure, think of their own (least) favourite example of evils—whether on the grand historical scale or personal grievances—for which punishment seems of some kind simply seems non-negotiable.  Whatever else you may think about the idea of divine judgment, at the very least it purports to take evil seriously and to address the evils of history.

Similarly, human beings and the choices they make seem not to be taken seriously enough in a universalistic universe.  If everyone is thought to come around to the right side eventually, whether by divine coercion and at the expense of human freedom (e.g., Friedrich Schleiermacher) or by divine suggestive influence through the exercise of human freedom (e.g., John Hick), the terrible human ability to reject God and to reject the good—to say “no!”—is not honoured.  Divine judgment takes human beings and the choices they make seriously enough to honour them permanently.

Obviously much more could be said about universalism, but this would be the beginning of my response to the question of why, much as I might like to on certain days, I cannot believe in the Jesus the person who emailed me was looking for.  I absolutely think there is a wideness to God’s mercy that we cannot even fathom (I can’t help but recall the following quote, cited by Miroslav Volf: “I am not an universalist, but God may be.”); however a world without any kind of divine judgment seems implausible and undesirable to me for the reasons cited above.  I think that human beings and the choices they make are too important to God for universalism to be true.

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    My impression from what I have read here at your blog is that this person would be safe at your church. I don’t think you speak of eternal damnation, even though your sense of justice is strong.

    The counselor in me wants to hear more of this person’s story.

    I know people who grew up with a fear of damnation instilled in them by their parents. They are allergic to church now. They try to not believe in God to avoid the fear, but still the fear never goes away.

    Sometimes, in spite of my need for justice and my desire for other people to be damned, I hope that everyone will be saved, because that would assure me that I will have eternal life.

    December 16, 2008
  2. I think you’re right Ken, it would have been good to hear more of the story behind the question. Part of me wonders how deep to probe an email question, but in hindsight there may have been better ways to leave the door open for learning more of the story.

    Like you, I’m very aware of people rejecting God/church because of the fear-loaded presentations of the gospel they received in their childhood. I grew up with some similar ideas in my head, and it wasn’t always easy. If there’s anything I’m committed to doing as a parent it’s handing down to my kids a faith that is not rooted in fear.

    Thanks for your honesty. I think it reflects a genuine humility and an understanding that real life and real people come in shades of grey, much as we might prefer clean categories (black/white, in/out, good/evil). The longer I live and the more “greyness” I experience, the more I’m reminded that whatever salvation we might look forward to can only come as a gift; all of us are dependent on the mercy of God.

    December 16, 2008
  3. Tough subject. Tough place to be put in – for either Christian or non-believer!

    I imagine it would be easier if Christian soteriology/eschatology didn’t have an all-or-nothing/eggs in one basket ultimatum (is ‘ultimatum’ too strong of a word?). But you say in your response to Ken that “real life” comes in “shades of grey”. Does this mean “permanence” is a relative term, and there’s another option other than Heaven or Hell?

    You said, “It’s not pleasant to think of judgment after all, especially when that judgment is permanent.” (bold mine) I’m fine with judgment. To me, the more aware we are of reality the better. But ‘permanent’… why one permanent judgment?

    Does this mean that all of us who will be in Hell will have no more changes in moral thoughts and actions? Or is the lack of belief in a supreme ‘triune’ being the only moral judgment, and therefore, all of us non-believers will be lumped together, no matter what the differences in our thoughts and actions? Do you consider either of these options to be examples of genuine good being taken seriously? Is this honorable punishment?

    You said, “the terrible human ability to reject God and to reject the good—to say “no!”—is not honoured.” Why must someone actually commit to such a decision to make a genuine choice honorable? Would you prefer to have God lessen His good influence so at least someone messes up, ensuring a non-Universalist reality? Is that more honorable?

    Also, do you think it is equally fair to say, two reasons to be a Universalist are: (1) non-Universalism has too low a view of good. (2) non-Universalism has too low a view of God?

    I don’t expect you to have an answer for all of these questions, Ryan. But I think it’s important to ask them (and more) about such a serious subject.

    I think this subject has a powerful way of affecting the relationships between the Church and non-believers. For example: should the Church perceive non-believers as the terminally ill, hoping never to become so sick for oneself but filled with pity for the non-believer, while praying for a miracle healing? OR should non-believers perceive the Church as unnecessarily cruel people making distorted judgments of non-Christian values, hiding extreme fear-mongering under indirect and euphemistic guises such as ‘Church conference doctrine’ or an ‘informing of my belief system’ or ‘It’s God’s will, not my own’.

    In the end, soteriology/eschatology often seems to lead me to questions like – What is perfect justice? How will it make me feel better about the injustice committed?

    December 17, 2008
  4. I imagine it would be easier if Christian soteriology/eschatology didn’t have an all-or-nothing/eggs in one basket ultimatum (is ‘ultimatum’ too strong of a word?). But you say in your response to Ken that “real life” comes in “shades of grey”. Does this mean “permanence” is a relative term, and there’s another option other than Heaven or Hell?

    I don’t think that “permanent” is or could be a relative term. There’s a finality inherent in the definition of the word. Whatever “heaven” and “hell” describe, I believe that at some point the curtain will come down on the drama of history and all of us will be on one side or the other.

    Does this mean that all of us who will be in Hell will have no more changes in moral thoughts and actions? Or is the lack of belief in a supreme ‘triune’ being the only moral judgment, and therefore, all of us non-believers will be lumped together, no matter what the differences in our thoughts and actions? Do you consider either of these options to be examples of genuine good being taken seriously? Is this honorable punishment?

    I certainly don’t consider the options as you’ve described them as examples of genuine good being taken seriously or of honourable punishment. I would consider them to be sub-Christian.

    You said, “the terrible human ability to reject God and to reject the good—to say “no!”—is not honoured.” Why must someone actually commit to such a decision to make a genuine choice honorable?

    I’m not sure I know what you mean by this. In what sense would a choice be free (or even real) if it were not honoured?

    Would you prefer to have God lessen His good influence so at least someone messes up, ensuring a non-Universalist reality? Is that more honorable?

    Again, I’m not exactly clear as to what you mean. Are you saying that a world where God is the only real causal agent is preferable to one where human beings can and do make meaningful choices that have real consequences. To say that God allows people to mess up is not the same as saying that he set things up to “ensure” a non-universalist reality.

    Also, do you think it is equally fair to say, two reasons to be a Universalist are: (1) non-Universalism has too low a view of good. (2) non-Universalism has too low a view of God?

    No, I don’t think it’s equally fair. First, “non-universalism” is far too broad a category to say anything definitive about as a collective entity. It could mean anything from the most restrictive understanding of salvation imaginable to a fairly broad inclusivism that simply doesn’t close the door to some kind of judgment. Second, as I alluded to in the initial post, I think that part of what it means for God to be good is for him to judge evil. A God who doesn’t judge evil for what it is, or offer any kind of justice and redemption for the misery of history doesn’t represent a higher view of God in my estimation.

    I think this subject has a powerful way of affecting the relationships between the Church and non-believers. For example: should the Church perceive non-believers as the terminally ill, hoping never to become so sick for oneself but filled with pity for the non-believer, while praying for a miracle healing? OR should non-believers perceive the Church as unnecessarily cruel people making distorted judgments of non-Christian values, hiding extreme fear-mongering under indirect and euphemistic guises such as ‘Church conference doctrine’ or an ‘informing of my belief system’ or ‘It’s God’s will, not my own’.

    Hmmm, not too difficult to see how you view the two sides… Suffice it to say that I certainly don’t think these are the only two options. In fact I think that while both are tragically common, they’re also incredibly unhelpful. Nonetheless, I absolutely agree that how this subject is conceptualized and discussed does have a profound influence on relationships between believers and nonbelievers. I think it is crucial to find less adversarial and condescending ways to describe differing viewpoints and discuss important questions.

    In the end, soteriology/eschatology often seems to lead me to questions like – What is perfect justice? How will it make me feel better about the injustice committed?

    Whatever “perfect justice” ends up looking like, I think God’s goal in making it a an eventual reality goes far beyond making us “feel better about the injustice committed.” Justice is a precursor for healing and restoration. I certainly don’t see how the other option – that there is no such thing as perfect justice and that it will never be realized – would make me feel any better.

    December 17, 2008
  5. “I certainly don’t consider the options as you’ve described them as examples of genuine good being taken seriously or of honourable punishment. I would consider them to be sub-Christian.” Then how would you describe these options to make them ‘examples of genuine good being taken seriously or of honourable punishment’?

    “Why must someone actually commit to such a decision to make a genuine choice honorable?” What I meant in this question was – why does someone have to actually do the bad act in order to make the choice to do bad or good a genuine, honorable choice?

    “Again, I’m not exactly clear as to what you mean. Are you saying that a world where God is the only real causal agent is preferable to one where human beings can and do make meaningful choices that have real consequences. To say that God allows people to mess up is not the same as saying that he set things up to “ensure” a non-universalist reality.” What I meant was (and I hope I don’t make things less clear here) when individuals have enough intellect to be accountable for their actions, and God provides enough of his knowledgeable guidance for them to understand why choosing to obey God is truly the perfect route for them, should God lessen his knowledgeable guidance enough (an omniscient being would know what is ‘enough’) so that at least one individual makes the wrong choice (disobeying God)?

    “No, I don’t think it’s equally fair. First, “non-universalism” is far too broad a category to say anything definitive about as a collective entity. It could mean anything from the most restrictive understanding of salvation imaginable to a fairly broad inclusivism that simply doesn’t close the door to some kind of judgment.” Again, judgment is fine – it’s the punishment that’s the real issue here (I think it’s important to make a distinction between the two). So, let’s replace ‘non-Universalism’ with ‘a-reality-where-at-least-one-person-is-damned-to-Hell’? Would your response still be the same?

    “A God who doesn’t.. offer any kind of justice and redemption for the misery of history doesn’t represent a higher view of God in my estimation.” How do you know that sending people to Hell is truly just and redeeming?

    “I think it is crucial to find less adversarial and condescending ways to describe differing viewpoints and discuss important questions.” I agree. And I would add – ‘..while maintaining a clear description of the raw facts within the differing viewpoints.’ This is quite the challenge when it’s also difficult to argue that the viewpoints themselves are not ‘adversarial and condescending’. But I’m not giving up hope on brutal honesty finding a loving, peaceful dancing partner :-).

    “Whatever “perfect justice” ends up looking like, I think God’s goal in making it a an eventual reality goes far beyond making us “feel better about the injustice committed.” Justice is a precursor for healing and restoration.” That’s exactly my point. If perfect justice happens to be a Universalist reality, and yet to some it doesn’t ‘personally’ feel or ‘seem’ like it’s honorable, addressing the evil, or undertaking it seriously enough, what’s still of primary importance here is that God brings about perfect justice.

    December 18, 2008
  6. Then how would you describe these options to make them ‘examples of genuine good being taken seriously or of honourable punishment’?

    Well, I certainly don’t think “belief in a triune being” is the only important moral criteria. Lots of people “believe” (even the demons, according to James 2:19); I think God is much more interested in ethics – how we live – than that we believe the right things. Of course, what we believe will (or at least ought to) have a lot to say about how we live, but belief in the correct set of propositions about God is certainly not the ultimate litmus test, in my view. As far as those in hell being able to change thoughts/actions, I think this goes back to what I said in the previous comment. Part of the Christian belief is that at some point the curtain will come down on history. Whatever options may be open to this or that person post-mortem, at some point the new creation comes with some participating and some not. At some point, I believe, time runs out. Re: the lumping of all non-believers together, this seems to be a bit of a caricature of Christian belief. Some Christians may see things in those kinds of binary terms, but I wouldn’t count myself among them. As I said in the initial post, I think there is a wideness to God’s mercy that we can’t comprehend, and that he alone has the understanding and ability to judge definitively on the question of this or that person’s eternal status.

    What I meant in this question was – why does someone have to actually do the bad act in order to make the choice to do bad or good a genuine, honorable choice?

    They don’t. But apparently we have and we do.

    What I meant was (and I hope I don’t make things less clear here) when individuals have enough intellect to be accountable for their actions, and God provides enough of his knowledgeable guidance for them to understand why choosing to obey God is truly the perfect route for them, should God lessen his knowledgeable guidance enough (an omniscient being would know what is ‘enough’) so that at least one individual makes the wrong choice (disobeying God)?

    I’m still not entirely getting it, I’m afraid. You seem to be looking for a God who would interfere just enough with people’s free will to ensure that they never choose incorrectly. I don’t see how this would still be freedom.

    Again, judgment is fine – it’s the punishment that’s the real issue here (I think it’s important to make a distinction between the two). So, let’s replace ‘non-Universalism’ with ‘a-reality-where-at-least-one-person-is-damned-to-Hell’? Would your response still be the same?

    Yes, it would. I still think don’t think that a universalist view of God is necessarily more morally praiseworthy than a non-universalist one (properly defined). I don’t think of the hell issue quite the same as you seem to. Whatever hell is (remembering that the biblical authors use a lot of symbolism and imagery), it seems to me that it is the logical consequence of a life lived apart from or in open defiance of God. Is it punitive in nature? I’m not sure. For me, it’s hard to see how the gift of resurrection and life with God would be seen as a welcome thing for a person who had never expressed that desire throughout their lives (in thought or action). You seem to think that judgment can take place without punishment or that there is an important difference between the two. I’m curious to hear why this is the case.

    How do you know that sending people to Hell is truly just and redeeming?

    See above re: God “sending” people to hell to “punish” them. I didn’t say that I thought “sending people to hell is truly just and redeeming.” I think whatever “hell” describes, it is, fundamentally, the honouring of the choices of a lifetime – a final honouring of the desire to have nothing to do with God. I think that the justice and restoration of the new creation are redemptive. Judging evil as evil is a part of this.

    I agree. And I would add – ‘..while maintaining a clear description of the raw facts within the differing viewpoints.’ This is quite the challenge when it’s also difficult to argue that the viewpoints themselves are not ‘adversarial and condescending’. But I’m not giving up hope on brutal honesty finding a loving, peaceful dancing partner :-).

    Yes, but the problem is that there is often disagreement about what the “raw facts” really are. Perhaps I’m speaking presumptuously, but would it be fair to say that your description of the believer in your previous comment (“unnecessarily cruel people making distorted judgments of non-Christian values, hiding extreme fear-mongering under indirect and euphemistic guises such as ‘Church conference doctrine’ or an ‘informing of my belief system’ or ‘It’s God’s will, not my own’”) would be a description of the “raw facts” from your perspective? If so, there would be no consensus between us about what the “raw facts” are. I agree, honesty (even of the “brutal” variety) is important, but the “raw facts” are often precisely what is under dispute.

    That’s exactly my point. If perfect justice happens to be a Universalist reality, and yet to some it doesn’t ‘personally’ feel or ’seem’ like it’s honorable, addressing the evil, or undertaking it seriously enough, what’s still of primary importance here is that God brings about perfect justice.

    I’m certainly not closed to the possibility of a universalist solution. I happen to like the quote from Volf I cited in the initial post for that reason. From my limited epistemological vantage point, it’s hard for me to see how it’s possible while still taking seriously the problem of evil and the full counsel of Scripture. But I can think of a lot worse questions to be wrong about.

    December 18, 2008
  7. “You seem to be looking for a God who would interfere just enough with people’s free will to ensure that they never choose incorrectly. I don’t see how this would still be freedom.” Not interfere with their freewill, but rather their misconceptions of what is, again, ‘truly the perfect route for them’. The everyday choices are still theirs. And with such a serious outcome of their choices, they deserve to understand what they are or are not choosing.

    “Whatever hell is (remembering that the biblical authors use a lot of symbolism and imagery), it seems to me that it is the logical consequence of a life lived apart from or in open defiance of God.” According to your definition, I’m in Hell now. But I don’t think that’s the idea the Church is thinking of when they talk about Hell.

    Concerning my distinction between judgment and punishment: how I understand them, judgment is defining (just or not) the way things are, and punishment is hurting someone because he/she committed an act that was unacceptable.

    “I didn’t say that I thought “sending people to hell is truly just and redeeming.” I think whatever “hell” describes, it is, fundamentally, the honouring of the choices of a lifetime – a final honouring of the desire to have nothing to do with God. I think that the justice and restoration of the new creation are redemptive. Judging evil as evil is a part of this.” So is this “honouring” a just act of God’s or not? And is this “honouring” redemptive for those ‘participating’ in ‘the new creation’ or not?

    Maybe if we explore this “new creation” doctrine, it would help me get a clearer picture of what Hell is. The conference statement talks about “a new heaven and a new earth” – is this referring to an entirely different earth or the earth we’re on now but made new? Because, if it’s the latter, I’m wondering what will happen to those who are still rejecting God when the earth they’re living on is made new. Are they evicted from their planetary home? If so, to where? And how? Will their material bodies be killed (‘killed’ – an example of brutal honesty)?

    “Perhaps I’m speaking presumptuously, but would it be fair to say that your description of the believer in your previous comment (“unnecessarily cruel people making distorted judgments of non-Christian values, hiding extreme fear-mongering under indirect and euphemistic guises such as ‘Church conference doctrine’ or an ‘informing of my belief system’ or ‘It’s God’s will, not my own’”) would be a description of the “raw facts” from your perspective?” Yes, you’re speaking presumptuously. It was an example of, as you said, a “tragically common” non-believer’s description of the “Church” (which was not the only generalization in this one of many examples). When I stated I wanted the “raw truth”, I was referring to each of us trying to make a clearer (less poetical language), and direct statement of what we each see as the reality of the ‘saved’ and non-saved lives in the ‘afterlife’. I especially think those who know they are not ‘saved’ (according to Christian beliefs) but want a “raw facts” description of what individual Christians judge their non-saved destiny to be, deserve a “raw facts” description on such a serious subject.

    Maybe you and I can get closer to stating the raw truth about your belief about Hell together? For instance, how would you re-write this statement: in the future, some people will be evicted from their planetary home via the killing off of their material bodies, and guiding their soul or spirit to a supernatural realm (Hell) that is separated from God’s relational actions and populated by those who have already been guided to such location because of the lack of good found in them within a century of their eternal existence, no matter the quality or quantity of moral improvements they may gain thereafter.

    December 19, 2008
  8. Correction:

    how would you re-write this statement: in the future, God will evict people from their planetary home via the killing of their material bodies. Their souls or spirits will be guided to a supernatural realm (Hell) that is separated from God’s relational actions forever, no matter the quality or quantity of moral improvements they may gain once they’ve entered Hell. And in this Hell they’ve entered there will be a collection of those who have already been guided to such location because of the lack of good found in them within a century of their eternal existence.

    December 19, 2008
  9. Not interfere with their freewill, but rather their misconceptions of what is, again, ‘truly the perfect route for them’. The everyday choices are still theirs. And with such a serious outcome of their choices, they deserve to understand what they are or are not choosing.

    I think that God gives everyone enough understanding to live, think, and believe appropriately for their context. I don’t believe anyone is going to be excluded based on a failure to properly understand the options (isn’t “fixing” our misconceptions still a form of interfering with free will?)

    “Whatever hell is (remembering that the biblical authors use a lot of symbolism and imagery), it seems to me that it is the logical consequence of a life lived apart from or in open defiance of God.” According to your definition, I’m in Hell now. But I don’t think that’s the idea the Church is thinking of when they talk about Hell.

    I think you’ve misunderstood my definition. I’ve said on several occasions now that I believe that at some point, the drama of history (at least this part) comes to an end. Whatever hell is, it takes place in the context of the future. I don’t think I’ve been ambiguous about that.

    “I didn’t say that I thought “sending people to hell is truly just and redeeming.” I think whatever “hell” describes, it is, fundamentally, the honouring of the choices of a lifetime—a final honouring of the desire to have nothing to do with God. I think that the justice and restoration of the new creation are redemptive. Judging evil as evil is a part of this.” So is this “honouring” a just act of God’s or not? And is this “honouring” redemptive for those ‘participating’ in ‘the new creation’ or not?

    Yes, it is. But that’s not the way you phrased your question initially. You asked “How do you know that sending people to Hell is truly just and redeeming?” The “sending” itself (to use your language—I’ve tried to make the distinction several times between hell as something God inflicts upon us and hell as something that we have the freedom to choose), is not redeeming. I don’t think the actual experiencing of separation from God (whenever that happens) is meant to be redemptive for anyone—either for those who choose it or for those who do not.

    Yes, you’re speaking presumptuously. It was an example of, as you said, a “tragically common” non-believer’s description of the “Church” (which was not the only generalization in this one of many examples).

    I apologize for my presumption.

    When I stated I wanted the “raw truth”, I was referring to each of us trying to make a clearer (less poetical language), and direct statement of what we each see as the reality of the ’saved’ and non-saved lives in the ‘afterlife’. I especially think those who know they are not ’saved’ (according to Christian beliefs) but want a “raw facts” description of what individual Christians judge their non-saved destiny to be, deserve a “raw facts” description on such a serious subject.

    Well, I’ve never considered myself a poet, but I’ll do my best to be as direct as I can. The “saved” enjoy life with God in the new creation where the pain and the evil of the present creation is healed all things are made new. The “unsaved” do not enjoy this reality and the separation from God they have chosen throughout their lives is granted in whatever mode of existence comes after the one we’re familiar with.

    (You realize, of course, that asking for “raw facts” about matters of eschatology is a bit of a stretch. We’re talking about events and realities about which none of us has the kind of epistemological access we would like. I realize that many Christians have, historically spoken quite confidently about the specifics of what awaits those on both sides of the divide; I have never shared their confidence, nor do I feel that authentic Christ-following requires it).

    how would you re-write this statement: in the future, God will evict people from their planetary home via the killing of their material bodies. Their souls or spirits will be guided to a supernatural realm (Hell) that is separated from God’s relational actions forever, no matter the quality or quantity of moral improvements they may gain once they’ve entered Hell. And in this Hell they’ve entered there will be a collection of those who have already been guided to such location because of the lack of good found in them within a century of their eternal existence.”

    Interesting phrasing—God “evicting” us, “killing off material bodies,” etc (God must be busy if every physical death is a deliberate act of God!), but here’s one stab at a re-write:

    In the future, the drama of history will come to an end, and God will allow those who, through action and belief, have not responded to the light God has made available to them, to separate themselves from him permanently.

    (As long as we’re speaking of events to which we have very limited epistemological access, I’m curious as to the source of your confidence that those who have spent a lifetime of alienating themselves from God and the good will be interested in “moral improvements” once their separation is complete?)

    December 19, 2008
  10. “I think that God gives everyone enough understanding to live, think, and believe appropriately for their context.” I don’t know how you could think that. Sure, it tidies up the theology, but is it realistic? It’d be a rare experience for anyone to understand enough about the choices they need to make to know which is ‘truly the perfect route for them’. From my experience, one of the biggest frustrations among Christian individuals is not knowing God’s will. On certain personal challenges some may get to a place where they can believe they know ‘the perfect route for them’, through their faith or the power of their intuition, but to really know?

    “I don’t believe anyone is going to be excluded based on a failure to properly understand the options” But you don’t believe anyone will be “excluded” at all. However, if there was some sort of divine act of exclusion, then I wish your statement were true. Nevertheless, there are so many of us on our way to Hell (although, not ‘committed’ to this route), while obsessed with finding an understanding of all the baffling options – especially the supernatural ones because we find them to be the most baffling of all.

    “(isn’t “fixing” our misconceptions still a form of interfering with free will?)” Okay, you goof, now you’re just playin’ ;). Why would you add the word “fixing” in this context? Hmm? Good choice for an enthymeme, though (to fit a theology without freewill, that is). It naturally leads one to believe that there wouldn’t be any hashing out of the perceptions between both God AND the human individual. “Fixing” can give the sense that God is our mechanic and we are the mindless vehicles that are incapable of being a part of the problem solving process.

    But let’s try to read “fixing” with the best intentions here and fit “fixing” within the context of a mutual endeavor that involves a learning process. For instance, could you ever “fix” my misconceptions of your beliefs? Nope, not gonna happen (but wouldn’t that be so much easier? ;)). Correcting these misconceptions requires both of us to mutually inform and ask questions to continually clarify my perceptions on these matters. OUR minds must be involved, discerning, analyzing, critiquing. The misconceptions I have of your beliefs need to be worked out together. Oh, and correct me if I’m wrong, Ryan, but I’m quite sure I’ve never given you the authority to interfere with my freewill :).

    “I think you’ve misunderstood my definition. I’ve said on several occasions now that I believe that at some point, the drama of history (at least this part) comes to an end. Whatever hell is, it takes place in the context of the future. I don’t think I’ve been ambiguous about that.” Yeah, you’re right. But that still leaves me hanging on how it will end. I suppose if you believe God will “rapture” away all the Christians from earth, then, He would have to either wait for the rest of us to kill ourselves off, or for a global natural disaster to occur that can wipe out the entire human population left on the planet, or He would have to kill us. But this last option sounds too much like God is, in part, involved in some kind of “sending” to Hell, which you made clear is not an option (thanks for the clarification). So far, we just have the first two options then – which are possible, but who knows which (if any) would occur?

    No apology is necessary about the presumption. It’s so easy to make them in this medium or others. And even if a number of our presumptions are not flattering, I think it’s a good thing to try not to take it personally. But, thanks for the gesture.

    “The “unsaved” do not enjoy this reality and the separation from God they have chosen throughout their lives is granted in whatever mode of existence comes after the one we’re familiar with.” I know you probably think I always belabor your points, but I don’t want to walk away with an understanding that you didn’t convey. When you say “granted”, do you also mean ‘continued’? Because then, although Christians would strongly disagree on this, Hell doesn’t sound so bad.

    “(You realize, of course, that asking for “raw facts” about matters of eschatology is a bit of a stretch. We’re talking about events and realities about which none of us has the kind of epistemological access we would like. I realize that many Christians have, historically spoken quite confidently about the specifics of what awaits those on both sides of the divide; I have never shared their confidence, nor do I feel that authentic Christ-following requires it).” Yeah, I know. But I like to explore the logical consequences of any eschatological assumptions. I hate being misrepresented, and I’m always looking for the most consistent portrait painted on theological canvases (I can make this less poetical/figurative for you if you want :)). And by the way, you’ve probably given me one of the best discussions on eschatology I’ve ever had.

    “In the future, the drama of history will come to an end, and God will allow those who, through action and belief, have not responded to the light God has made available to them, to separate themselves from him permanently.” (bold mine) I think some things are finally starting to sink in here. Since it’s our choice, then, those of us in Hell can change our minds about making the separation from God permanent – because God doesn’t actually exclude anyone from Heaven. Sorry for the delay.

    “(As long as we’re speaking of events to which we have very limited epistemological access, I’m curious as to the source of your confidence that those who have spent a lifetime of alienating themselves from God and the good will be interested in “moral improvements” once their separation is complete?)” I don’t think we’ve been alienating ourselves from all that is good. But you may be thinking this because you don’t think there is any good to be experienced without God’s future involvement.

    December 20, 2008
    • “I think that God gives everyone enough understanding to live, think, and believe appropriately for their context.” I don’t know how you could think that. Sure, it tidies up the theology, but is it realistic? It’d be a rare experience for anyone to understand enough about the choices they need to make to know which is ‘truly the perfect route for them’. From my experience, one of the biggest frustrations among Christian individuals is not knowing God’s will. On certain personal challenges some may get to a place where they can believe they know ‘the perfect route for them’, through their faith or the power of their intuition, but to really know?

      Why is it so hard to believe that God would give people enough to go on for their context? I don’t believe it because I’m looking for a tidy theology but because I believe our final judge to be just. A just judge does not judge someone by a standard that is inaccessible or unattainable for them. I have never used the language of “perfection”; I’m not talking about people having a perfect understanding of the minutiae of God’s will (I don’t think that God’s plans for us involve the kind of specificity that many assume they do when they’re looking for “God’s will,” but that’s another issue). I’m simply saying that God gives us enough to go on in order for us to reflect his image in the contexts we find ourselves.

      But you don’t believe anyone will be “excluded” at all. However, if there was some sort of divine act of exclusion, then I wish your statement were true. Nevertheless, there are so many of us on our way to Hell (although, not ‘committed’ to this route), while obsessed with finding an understanding of all the baffling options – especially the supernatural ones because we find them to be the most baffling of all.

      I’ve never definitively said that I don’t believe anyone will be excluded. I’ve said I’m open to the possibility of universalism, but I’ve also expressed reservations. Incidentally, if you’re so convinced that you’re on your way to hell, why bother obsessing about all the options—especially the supernatural ones?

      “(isn’t “fixing” our misconceptions still a form of interfering with free will?)” Okay, you goof, now you’re just playin’ ;). Why would you add the word “fixing” in this context? Hmm? Good choice for an enthymeme, though (to fit a theology without freewill, that is). It naturally leads one to believe that there wouldn’t be any hashing out of the perceptions between both God AND the human individual. “Fixing” can give the sense that God is our mechanic and we are the mindless vehicles that are incapable of being a part of the problem solving process.

      I didn’t anticipate the word “fixing” being such a problem. You said you were looking for divine interference to correct misconceptions about what is or is not the “perfect” route for us to take. Seems like a kind of fixing to me, but whatever. I was responding to your comments here, not personally advocating some kind of “divine mechanic” view. I’m about as strong a proponent of free will as you could hope to find. The impression I’ve gotten from you is that God should have done a whole number of things (including restricting the exercise of our freedom or moderating it somehow to prevent certain possibilities from becoming actualities) to make things fairer, easier, less problematic, etc for us.

      But let’s try to read “fixing” with the best intentions here and fit “fixing” within the context of a mutual endeavor that involves a learning process. For instance, could you ever “fix” my misconceptions of your beliefs? Nope, not gonna happen (but wouldn’t that be so much easier? ;)). Correcting these misconceptions requires both of us to mutually inform and ask questions to continually clarify my perceptions on these matters. OUR minds must be involved, discerning, analyzing, critiquing. The misconceptions I have of your beliefs need to be worked out together. Oh, and correct me if I’m wrong, Ryan, but I’m quite sure I’ve never given you the authority to interfere with my freewill :).

      This whole scenario depends on a level of epistemological equality. That same equality does not, presumably, exist between human beings and God.

      “The “unsaved” do not enjoy this reality and the separation from God they have chosen throughout their lives is granted in whatever mode of existence comes after the one we’re familiar with.” I know you probably think I always belabor your points, but I don’t want to walk away with an understanding that you didn’t convey. When you say “granted”, do you also mean ‘continued’? Because then, although Christians would strongly disagree on this, Hell doesn’t sound so bad.

      Sure, “continued” is fine. I think the consequences of our choices in this life will continue to be born out. Personally, I still think it still sounds like a pretty grim option. You seem to imply that it will be a calm quiet place for moral reflection. I would disagree (I don’t rule out the possibility of such an opportunity post-mortem, but I wouldn’t call it hell). I think that we were created to love God and love each other, and that there will be an absence of both of these things in hell (assuming that hell is an eternal mode of existence; I’m sure you know that Christians disagree about whether or not those in hell continue to exist forever or just fade into non-existence). Hell will be the antithesis of what God intended for creation and for his image-bearers.

      I think some things are finally starting to sink in here. Since it’s our choice, then, those of us in Hell can change our minds about making the separation from God permanent – because God doesn’t actually exclude anyone from Heaven. Sorry for the delay.

      You’ve added an element here that I did not communicate. The fact that God allows us to choose the course of our lives here and now does not mean that the future reality will be the same. Tied up in the idea that at some point history (as we know it) comes to an end is the idea that our freedom (as it is presently experienced) has limits. On the other side of the divide, there is no more choice (i.e., I don’t think there will be any yo-yoing back and forth). Whether this is because at this point we have put ourselves beyond the “point of no return” or this line is simply a divine fiat, there is a quantum leap from one mode to the other. I personally think that those who find themselves in separated from God will have very little interest or ability to change course. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said somewhere that each of us, every day, is living in such a way as to make ourselves fit for either heaven or hell. As I said before, whatever may or may not happen prior to the ultimate future reality (i.e., whether or not there is some kind of post-mortem “purgatorial” type state), once that line is crossed it’s permanent.

      I don’t think we’ve been alienating ourselves from all that is good. But you may be thinking this because you don’t think there is any good to be experienced without God’s future involvement.

      I don’t think that there’s any good to be experienced without God’s present involvement either. Wherever good is done, God is involved, whether his involvement is acknowledged or not.

      December 21, 2008
  11. “Why is it so hard to believe that God would give people enough to go on for their context?” If God exists, I don’t doubt that He’s capable of giving people enough to go on, but from what I know of people’s life experiences, it doesn’t look like He has. Most people I know, more than anything else, hope that they’re doing the right thing. And when I’ve asked some people who are convinced they’re doing the right thing, what do they know that others don’t, they have nothing new to say.

    “I don’t believe it because I’m looking for a tidy theology but because I believe our final judge to be just. A just judge does not judge someone by a standard that is inaccessible or unattainable for them.” Maybe from your perspective you’re personally in touch with God to learn about Him and His standards, and you’ve seen Him in action to recognize that He is just. From my perspective, I see two things: a bunch of virtues being collected and an imagined existence of a being powerful enough to be obedient to those virtues. But my perspective is not without questions. I could be wrong about what I see. And if I were to gain a perspective like the one I mentioned you might have, I would look at things alot differently.

    “Incidentally, if you’re so convinced that you’re on your way to hell, why bother obsessing about all the options—especially the supernatural ones?” Because I don’t have a clear understanding of the options. Right now, the option I’m using looks more appealing (in the practical, ethical, and intellectual sense) than the supernatural ones, but I could be wrong. If I gained a clearer understanding, it’s possible the supernatural option would become more appealing to me, and therefore, I’d naturally want to work with that option instead.

    “This whole scenario depends on a level of epistemological equality. That same equality does not, presumably, exist between human beings and God.” The relatively equal “level” I’m portraying is communication. This does not negate the intellectual inequality between human beings and God. Maybe Genesis 3:8-13 would be an example of what I’m talking about.

    “I don’t think that there’s any good to be experienced without God’s present involvement either.” Are you implying that God’s creating is good, but the creation itself (including humanity) is amoral or immoral? Or would you rather say that creation is always in a state of being created and wherever God stops creating in the natural world, that is where you will find the amoral or immoral? Either way gives a strong impression that if God kept all of nature in a state of becoming through his creating, the amoral and/or immoral would never exist. And this isn’t the case, so what happened? How could the birth of evil possibly happen other than as a result of God withdrawing His creating from the created?

    If I want to know the effect, I have to study the cause, eh? 🙂

    December 23, 2008
    • If God exists, I don’t doubt that He’s capable of giving people enough to go on, but from what I know of people’s life experiences, it doesn’t look like He has. Most people I know, more than anything else, hope that they’re doing the right thing. And when I’ve asked some people who are convinced they’re doing the right thing, what do they know that others don’t, they have nothing new to say.

      I would chalk this up to people having a flawed understanding of what God’s will is. We’ve somehow gotten the idea that God’s will is this mysterious thing that is unique to each individual and that we all have to hunt down for ourselves. He’s actually made it quite clear: do justly; love mercy; walk humbly with your God; love God and your neighbour as yourself. Understanding what God wants is much less difficult than doing it, from my perspective.

      Maybe from your perspective you’re personally in touch with God to learn about Him and His standards, and you’ve seen Him in action to recognize that He is just. From my perspective, I see two things: a bunch of virtues being collected and an imagined existence of a being powerful enough to be obedient to those virtues. But my perspective is not without questions. I could be wrong about what I see. And if I were to gain a perspective like the one I mentioned you might have, I would look at things a lot differently.

      I wouldn’t consider myself any more or less “in touch” with God than others (if you’re talking about some kind of mystical connection which gives me a peculiar insight others lack). My belief in a just God who judges fairly seems to me the most intellectually satisfying way to account for, among other things, the existence of virtue itself and our desire for it.

      The relatively equal “level” I’m portraying is communication. This does not negate the intellectual inequality between human beings and God.

      The initial analogy you used was of two parties collectively negotiating and learning their way to the discovery of truth, proper beliefs/conceptions. This analogy was made in a discussion of how God communicates (our ought to communicate) his intentions to us. That’s why I brought up the epistemological inequality inherent in the divine/human relationship.

      “I don’t think that there’s any good to be experienced without God’s present involvement either.” Are you implying that God’s creating is good, but the creation itself (including humanity) is amoral or immoral? Or would you rather say that creation is always in a state of being created and wherever God stops creating in the natural world, that is where you will find the amoral or immoral? Either way gives a strong impression that if God kept all of nature in a state of becoming through his creating, the amoral and/or immoral would never exist. And this isn’t the case, so what happened? How could the birth of evil possibly happen other than as a result of God withdrawing His creating from the created?

      I wasn’t saying anything directly about the moral status of creation. I was simply saying that wherever good is done, God is involved as the source. The question of the origin of evil is a different one. I’m not a fan of process philosophy/theology, mainly because I can’t imagine how a God always in self-discovery mode could be trusted with the future and the hopes we have for it. I think that God has “withdrawn” from creation, in a sense, but this withdrawal is built into the very act of creating human beings and, so Christians believe, does not represent his permanent way of relating to his world. In choosing to grant significant, meaningful freedom to his image-bearers, God takes his hand of the wheel, in a sense, at least in the sense of being the sole causal agent in the cosmos.

      December 24, 2008
  12. “I would chalk this up to people having a flawed understanding of what God’s will is.” Then how has God given people ‘enough to go on for their context’ if they have a flawed understanding? How does a flawed understanding ensure them that they’re choosing ‘the perfect route for them’? How is God’s standard accessible and attainable here?

    “We’ve somehow gotten the idea that God’s will is this mysterious thing that is unique to each individual and that we all have to hunt down for ourselves.” Maybe that’s because every situation and person are unique, and neither can be easily glossed over with platitudes. It may also be because sometimes things seem quite simple while other times the slightest change in behaviour(s) bring about not so simple consequences. The fact of the matter is, every person in this world in constant struggle to understand what it is that they need to do to achieve the best destiny available is evidence of God’s standard not being clear. And I have yet to see any evidences to the contrary.

    “He’s actually made it quite clear: do justly; love mercy; walk humbly with your God; love God and your neighbour as yourself. Understanding what God wants is much less difficult than doing it, from my perspective.” Well if everyone understands what is the just, loving, merciful, humble thing to do in at least the majority of everyday situations, why is there so much disagreement about how to act out these virtues? I think the pursuit of genuine good requires serious considerations of it’s intricacies – and in doing so, we also benefit from achieving a greater, deeper recognition of the myriad purposes and meanings in the lives of humanity.

    “My belief in a just God who judges fairly seems to me the most intellectually satisfying way to account for, among other things, the existence of virtue itself and our desire for it.” So, the existence of a “just God” is a good fit for you to have an explanation for the origin of good. Fine. But my point throughout this discussion has been that the “just God” explanation doesn’t fit with the experiences people are having.

    “The initial analogy you used was of two parties collectively negotiating and learning their way to the discovery of truth, proper beliefs/conceptions.” If you’re referring to my analogy in comment #10 where you’re helping me work out my misconceptions, you’ve missed the point of my analogy and focused on where the analogy could be interpreted as an example of process theology – which was not my point at all (not that I’m not interested in discussing it at another time).

    I said, “a mutual endeavor that involves a learning process” with the intention of communicating that there was a learning process for one of those within the mutual endeavor. Other than that I think it’s not unrealistic for an omniscient God to “inform and ask questions to continually clarify my perceptions on these matters,” or involve His mind to demonstrate “discerning, analyzing, critiquing” for my benefit.

    “I wasn’t saying anything directly about the moral status of creation.” I didn’t say you were. But intentional or not, your statement has an indirect comment on the ‘moral status of creation’.

    “The question of the origin of evil is a different one.” If it’s tied to Hell, which it looks like it clearly is (God separates from creation so that creation can separate from God), I disagree.

    “I’m not a fan of process philosophy/theology, mainly because I can’t imagine how a God always in self-discovery mode could be trusted with the future and the hopes we have for it.” See my fifth paragraph in this comment.

    “I think that God has “withdrawn” from creation, in a sense, but this withdrawal is built into the very act of creating human beings and, so Christians believe, does not represent his permanent way of relating to his world.” I’m not sure what you’re communicating here. Are you trying to explain the difference between pantheism and pan-entheism? If so, I don’t see that being a point in the thread of our conversation.

    “In choosing to grant significant, meaningful freedom to his image-bearers, God takes his hand of the wheel, in a sense, at least in the sense of being the sole causal agent in the cosmos.” I wasn’t questioning the existence of humanity’s freewill to choose the good in the presence of God’s creating. What I’m questioning is God’s partial withdrawal from creation by stopping His creating to make room for the first of evil, available for angels and humanity to take in as a part of their own identity (separation from God).

    Returning to a brief exchange of ours over a question in comment #5 -‘Why does someone have to actually do the bad act in order to make the choice to do bad or good a genuine, honorable choice?’ You said, “They don’t.” And yet God found it necessary to abandon humanity to such act. For God to give humanity a simple warning instead of providing them with enough intellect to be accountable for their actions, is to demonstrate that He didn’t clarify for them which is the perfect route. And like I said before, ‘with such a serious outcome of their choices, they deserve to understand what they are or are not choosing.’

    It seems, Ryan, that one of your biggest concerns about Universalism is that it will interfere with peoples’ “freewill”. I submit that by not making an understanding of His standards accessible and attainable, God has been dishonouring peoples’ freewill for sometime now. If God would have, instead, provided his knowledgeable guidance for all to avoid their misconceptions of ‘truly the perfect route for them,’ He would also be providing the human will more freedom to know what’s really going on – and to choose accordingly. This is the “significant, meaningful freedom” worthy of believing in.

    So, finally, I don’t think God truly “seeks the redemption of all” despite what 1Tim.2:3-4 says. Besides, like you said in your post, “As is the case in most matters of importance, Bible verses can be produced to support both sides of the issue.” And though Miroslav Volf is not a Universalist, I think God should be, to bring about perfect justice. To take matters seriously, the honorable thing for God to do would be to have a higher view of genuine good, evil, and humanity. But that’s just my opinion. 🙂

    Anyway, Ryan, it’s been a pleasure. I hope you and your family are having a great time this Christmas season – and have a happy New Year!

    December 25, 2008
    • I gather from your conclusion that you’re checking out of the discussion. If so, I too, wish you and those you love a wonderful Christmas season/New Year and thank you for the discussion. On the off chance that you were looking for responses to your comments…

      Then how has God given people ‘enough to go on for their context’ if they have a flawed understanding? How does a flawed understanding ensure them that they’re choosing ‘the perfect route for them’? How is God’s standard accessible and attainable here?

      Just so I’m clear, in order for God to have given people enough to go on to obtain salvation, everyone has to understand, with perfect clarity what their “perfect route” is? Ought we to contribute nothing to the process (either positively, in the sense of growing in discovery and appreciation, or negatively, in the sense of disregarding and disobeying)? Is it, in principle, inconceivable that there ought to be any struggle, setbacks, discipline, patience, etc involved in the pursuit of God and his will?

      “We’ve somehow gotten the idea that God’s will is this mysterious thing that is unique to each individual and that we all have to hunt down for ourselves.” Maybe that’s because every situation and person are unique, and neither can be easily glossed over with platitudes.

      Where do you see me as having done this, exactly?

      It may also be because sometimes things seem quite simple while other times the slightest change in behaviour(s) bring about not so simple consequences. The fact of the matter is, every person in this world in constant struggle to understand what it is that they need to do to achieve the best destiny available is evidence of God’s standard not being clear. And I have yet to see any evidences to the contrary.

      Every person in this world is in a constant struggle to understand what it is that they need to do? Really? You know this how? (I can think of more than a few people who actually think they have a fair amount of clarity and conviction regarding the path they ought to take, and don’t hesitate to act accordingly. Would this count as “evidence to the contrary?”). See above paragraph re: human beings actually having the ability, obligation, and dignity of seeking God.

      Well if everyone understands what is the just, loving, merciful, humble thing to do in at least the majority of everyday situations, why is there so much disagreement about how to act out these virtues?

      In your opinion, does the absence of 100% human consensus on these matters equal a culpable level of divine ambiguity?

      I think the pursuit of genuine good requires serious considerations of it’s intricacies – and in doing so, we also benefit from achieving a greater, deeper recognition of the myriad purposes and meanings in the lives of humanity.

      I agree.

      So, the existence of a “just God” is a good fit for you to have an explanation for the origin of good. Fine. But my point throughout this discussion has been that the “just God” explanation doesn’t fit with the experiences people are having.

      Which people? All people?

      “The initial analogy you used was of two parties collectively negotiating and learning their way to the discovery of truth, proper beliefs/conceptions.” If you’re referring to my analogy in comment #10 where you’re helping me work out my misconceptions, you’ve missed the point of my analogy and focused on where the analogy could be interpreted as an example of process theology – which was not my point at all (not that I’m not interested in discussing it at another time).

      I was simply probing your use of what I felt was a flawed analogy. And intentional or not, your initial analogy represented an allusion to process theology.

      I said, “a mutual endeavor that involves a learning process” with the intention of communicating that there was a learning process for one of those within the mutual endeavor. Other than that I think it’s not unrealistic for an omniscient God to “inform and ask questions to continually clarify my perceptions on these matters,” or involve His mind to demonstrate “discerning, analyzing, critiquing” for my benefit.

      Fine. That’s much clearer and I agree. In your initial comment the analogy was much more direct (The fact that you meant it as a direct comparison seemed pretty clear when you reminded me that you hadn’t “given me the authority to manipulate your free will” in our discussion) and lacking qualification and nuance. Thanks for clarifying.

      “The question of the origin of evil is a different one.” If it’s tied to Hell, which it looks like it clearly is (God separates from creation so that creation can separate from God), I disagree.

      I didn’t say it was unrelated, but you obviously know that the origin of evil is a massive question that could take up another discussion entirely. I was just trying to keep things focused enough to have a productive discussion.

      “I’m not a fan of process philosophy/theology, mainly because I can’t imagine how a God always in self-discovery mode could be trusted with the future and the hopes we have for it.” See my fifth paragraph in this comment.

      Your comment in the fifth paragraph doesn’t address my concerns about process theology.

      “I think that God has “withdrawn” from creation, in a sense, but this withdrawal is built into the very act of creating human beings and, so Christians believe, does not represent his permanent way of relating to his world.” I’m not sure what you’re communicating here. Are you trying to explain the difference between pantheism and pan-entheism? If so, I don’t see that being a point in the thread of our conversation.

      If I wanted to introduce pantheism/pan-entheism into the discussion I would have done so clearly. I was simply underscoring the twofold Christian belief that: a) the world does not presently reflect the desires and intentions of God (he “withdraws,” and allows us to go our own way); and b) one day, this will change.

      “In choosing to grant significant, meaningful freedom to his image-bearers, God takes his hand of the wheel, in a sense, at least in the sense of being the sole causal agent in the cosmos.” I wasn’t questioning the existence of humanity’s freewill to choose the good in the presence of God’s creating. What I’m questioning is God’s partial withdrawal from creation by stopping His creating to make room for the first of evil, available for angels and humanity to take in as a part of their own identity (separation from God).

      What, exactly, are you questioning about God’s partial withdrawal? Whether he has done it? Whether he ought to have done it?

      Returning to a brief exchange of ours over a question in comment #5 -’Why does someone have to actually do the bad act in order to make the choice to do bad or good a genuine, honorable choice?’ You said, “They don’t.” And yet God found it necessary to abandon humanity to such act. For God to give humanity a simple warning instead of providing them with enough intellect to be accountable for their actions, is to demonstrate that He didn’t clarify for them which is the perfect route. And like I said before, ‘with such a serious outcome of their choices, they deserve to understand what they are or are not choosing.’

      Do you know that God didn’t give people “enough intellect to be accountable for their actions? How?

      It seems, Ryan, that one of your biggest concerns about Universalism is that it will interfere with peoples’ “freewill”.

      Correct.

      I submit that by not making an understanding of His standards accessible and attainable, God has been dishonouring peoples’ freewill for sometime now. If God would have, instead, provided his knowledgeable guidance for all to avoid their misconceptions of ‘truly the perfect route for them,’ He would also be providing the human will more freedom to know what’s really going on – and to choose accordingly. This is the “significant, meaningful freedom” worthy of believing in.

      Many of your comments seem to be some variation of “if God was just, he wouldn’t have made evil possible, he would have made things somehow easier, clearer, etc.” You assume, of course, that people don’t or can’t know what’s really going on, that we’re all lost in this hopeless fog of confusion. As, I’ve said before, for you, “significant, meaningful freedom” seems to mean “freedom that can never choose incorrectly.” Would anyone make an incorrect choice or fail to find “the truly perfect route for them” on your view of “freedom?”

      So, finally, I don’t think God truly “seeks the redemption of all” despite what 1Tim. 2:3-4 says. Besides, like you said in your post, “As is the case in most matters of importance, Bible verses can be produced to support both sides of the issue.” And though Miroslav Volf is not a Universalist, I think God should be, to bring about perfect justice. To take matters seriously, the honorable thing for God to do would be to have a higher view of genuine good, evil, and humanity. But that’s just my opinion. 🙂

      That’s fine. I think that by far the most compelling reasons to adopt a universalist worldview are moral ones. Again, however, I’m simply not convinced that universalism represents the most “honorable” divine response to good, evil, and humanity.

      December 26, 2008

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